My Reflections on Somali Migration to the US

by Abdullahi Nur
Sunday, January 03, 2010

Somalia’s government collapsed in January 1991, and many Somali’s fled the country because of insecurity - becoming refugees in neighboring countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. From these bordering nation states, many of these Somali refugees were then absorbed by Western countries, and are now being integrated into ‘Western’ society.

Somalis are not only the only cultural group that has immigrated to the United States In fact, there have been millions of people from hundreds of different countries around the world who have travelled to the US in search of a new life. The level and scope of immigration in the US means that immigration remains a big news story.

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, immigration is the act of travelling to a foreign country to live. The act of departing one’s country to settle in other country is called emigration. Emigrants travel to other countries for a number of reasons: to flee their country because of persecution or war; to travel to other countries to seek employment, and this relatively new phenomenon has been boosted by the globalization of the economy.

During the 19th century, approximately, ten people in every one hundred thousand could be classed as international migrants.  Comparing that figure to today, an International Organization for Migration based in Geneva (IOM) spokesperson, Jean-Philippen Chauzy, stated in a British Broadcasting Co-operation (BBC) interview that, “for point of view in early stages its fair to say no country in the world is unaffected by international migration flows.  Today, most countries are countries of origin/transit/destination for migrants.  The number we have: the stock number for international migrant’s today worldwide, is hovering at around 175 million migrants - roughly one person in 35.  In more developed regions of world percentage is higher 1 in 10”.Most developed industrial countries have the highest number of immigrants, especially the United States.

The U.S. has long been the world’s chief receiving nation for gross numbers of immigrants and refugees.  The country has experienced four major eras of immigration.  The first wave came in the 1600’s from Europe, and settled what is known today as United States of America.  The second wave came between 1820 and 1870, and this wave came mostly from Western Europe.  The third and fourth waves came between 1881 and 1920, and 1920 and 1965 respectively.

Somali refugees have been arriving in the United States in large numbers from the mid 1990s; and Minnesota promptly became a favored destination for Somalis, with the largest majority of Somalis living in the US actually residing in Minnesota (estimated at about 40,000).

The question to be asked is, “how does U.S. immigration policy support education to aid employment for new immigrants”?  I found out that the US’s historical and current policy has supported education to aid employment for new immigrants.

First, it is not easy for someone flee his or her homeland, yet there are overwhelming numbers of people moving for different reasons.  These reasons can be “push” factors, which are caused by: a lack of socio-economic opportunities; anticipation in other countries for better employment opportunities; bad governance; conflict; civil discord; and, ecological degradation.  My personal experience includes: bad governance, very limited educational opportunities, and ongoing conflict and insecurity. On one other hand, there are “pull” factors that migrants are aware of and desire.  Chief among these is the opportunity for better paid employment in the country of destination.  With the U.S. government receiving the largest number of migrants of any country of the world and gross numbers, the U.S. immigration policy has been developed to meet that large inflow over a long period.

There are organizations here in the U.S. that work with the government, such as New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICEs), which helps new immigrants to adjust to their lives in a new land.  These organizations help with rights education, as well as their education on rights to access basic services and education - including access to English classes. New immigrants’ children are affected by cultural misunderstanding, language barriers, and feelings of solitude within the existing U.S. school atmosphere.  More recently, however, immigrant children are finding a more welcoming school atmosphere.

Here in Minnesota, there is a non-profit organization called Minnesota Literacy Council (MLC), and they provide literacy services to adults, children, and community programmers around Minnesota.  The children who cannot speak English well get academic curriculum programs, such as ESL courses, that begin with the development of understanding and move to advanced English reading and writing.  According to the Minnesota Literacy Council, the organization teaches adults English reading and basic math skills, as well as offering citizenship classes and GED preparation classes.  Another is the Virginia Literacy Council, which also provides ESL programs and other basic training skills that new immigrants can utilize in the labor market.

Asking questions is strongly encouraged as a means of learning and integration - as Alfred Adler once said “one question can change the course of discussion and a life”. As a Somali immigrant, my question to the Somali people who live here in the United States is, do they see living in the US as a privilege? I response, I have observed the lives of Somali people who live in the United States, and I have categorized them into three groups.

First group: they are the group who have actively taken that chances offered in the US. They have gone to school and educated themselves and received knowledge, and with this knowledge they have accessed work in the market; and in turn, they pay taxes back to the government.  That is how economic growth occurs and how the community develops.  It is how those who improved themselves can give back to their new country, and help their new country grow economically.

There is also a sub-group of the first groups, who are still in the major colleges and universities, and are preparing to take their chance.  Recently, before the break I visited major colleges and the University of Minnesota. Most Somali students I met there were young and beautiful. When I asked what they were studying, I received a plethora of answers including, medicine, pharmacy, nursing, etc.

Second group: they are still poorly educated, unskilled workers. Yet, there are many who fill the sorts of jobs that most native-born Americans will not take.  For example, most of this group works in blue-collar jobs.  They work on assembly lines, meat factories, and the rest are cab drivers; all except a few who went to school here in the U.S., and now have good educational skills, and this group have adjusted to their life here in America very well, and they have created their own small businesses, such as grocery shops, restaurants; and now they send money back to their families abroad.

Third group: this group has given up, and they are not doing anything at all, except sitting in the cafeteria sipping a coffee or Somali tea and thinking that they are still in Somalia; asking questions about back home that they think they care about the country, but they are marginalized and have lost the opportunity here.
As I reflect upon my experience thus far of America, and the opportunities that I have been provided with, I like to compare those experiences with other Somalis, who have also come from similar circumstances as myself, and thus gauge my experience against theirs. I really like to see so many of my kinsmen taking the opportunities provided by institutions in the US. Truth be told, there is no question in my mind that to live here in America is my greatest privilege; and from Somalia - where war, hunger, disease, lack of education and opportunity of work systemically prevails – it is a dream that is beyond imagination.

Let me quote the BBC editor in North America, Justin Webb, who finished his assignment in America recently. Justin said, “America shines a light on the entire human condition”.  I agree with Justin, and I believe too because there are more 300 million from around the world who live here and you can get most or may be all the elements that you needed to develop yourself. Let me say thanks to the American government for the immigration policy and how it helps the new immigrants and thanks for those who are my fellow Somali and understand the life here in the US is a privilege for us (Somali) However, for some new immigrants, it is hard for them to settle in a new place, and it takes more time to understand or adapt to a new place, but no thanks for those who lost the opportunity where the opportunity is here and knocked the doors.


Abdullahi Nur (Freelance)
Minneapolis-Minnesota,
United States.
[email protected]

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